Courtship in Crisis: The Case for Traditional Dating by Thomas Umstattd, Jr. caught my eye, since I’d noticed a few problems with the courtship model along the years. The author used to be an advocate of what he labels “Modern Courtship” and very much against dating as it used to be done. When he talked about his campaign pro-courtship with his grandfather, however, the elderly man said, “I don’t think courtship is a smart idea.” His grandmother chimed in, “How can you tell who you want to marry if you aren’t going out on dates?” Their grandson tried to convince them on courting, but they didn’t budge. He figured they didn’t understand. He even “founded PracticalCourtship.com to encourage a national conversation to help courtship work for more people. . . . Each year I waited for courtship to work for the majority of it’s practitioners. It never happened. Of the courtship community I grew up in, most members are still single.”
Whereas courtship was designed to better prepare people for marriage, it actually ended up in people not marrying at all and people who did marry who hardly knew each other.
The author says there are several problems with courtship. One is, while the young man is working so hard to impress the girl’s father, he has no opportunity to woo and impress the girl. Dates are in a group or otherwise chaperoned, and the courters don’t see each other in normal circumstances. They can’t really talk alone and get to know each other.
One of the points I thought was interesting is that the author says, when all “dating” is done “for the purpose of marriage,” it makes every meeting serious. You can’t casually get to know someone. Everything—even sharing Cokes—is done “for the purpose of marriage.” That includes dates and questionnaires with the girl’s father before the man even gets to know the girl. It treats every relationship very seriously before it’s even a friendship. And, we're talking about two adult people, not children. Young men have to prove to the dad that they can provide, that they are serious adults, etc. before they can even get to know his daughter.
The author says, “Modern Courtship promised to help us guard out hearts from the heartbreak of dating. Instead, it amplified the pain of rejection. These young men and women want to honor God. They also want to get married. Yet there seems to be no clear path from single-and-lonely to married-and-happy.”
Mr. Umstattd noticed a trend. “In 1946, a typical church of 300 people would have had five weddings in one year. That same church in 2014 would host only two weddings.”
He explores history, especially in biblical times and the customs of the day. He talks about marriage before love and love before marriage—and the problems with both ideas. “By the mid-1950s, young men ‘earned the right’ to go steady by going on dates with lots of different women.”
The author returns to the subject of only dating “for the purpose of marriage.” He says it “puts undue pressure on budding relationships and make it harder for true love to develop. A young man is unlikely to ask a young woman to coffee when that invitation is tantamount to a marriage proposal.”
He also criticizes what he labels “Modern Dating,” that substitutes “for the purpose of marriage” with “for the purpose of sex.” This, of course, isn’t a Christian concept.
The problem with the terminology is further complicated with the old term “going steady” becoming “dating.”
So, Mr. Umstattd invents his own term, “Traditional Dating.” He describes it this way: “couples don’t go steady right away. This season where men compete for women’s hearts trains men to treat women with respect.” Compare this with the courtship idea where “the man asks the father for the woman’s heart. The father gives his daughter to the man, and it’s the father’s heart that must be won—not very romantic. . . . In Traditional Dating, the man has to fight for the woman’s heart. This fight forces him to be both honorable and intentional. Competition spurs men toward excellence.”
This book discusses the ups and downs and problems with no commitment, cohabitation, and other issues most Christians would understand clearly already.
Though I didn’t agree with every point, I think this is a needed perspective, and that this book expresses concerns that many of us older people have had for a long time.
Let me share a little bit from my personal experience.
My husband and I dated on a Christian college campus for three years. This was in the 1970s, when we could have labeled the normal dating experience “Traditional Dating,” according to the author of this book. There were many opportunities for dates. “Dates” could have been sitting beside someone for lunch, going to church, a soccer or basketball game, outings, and sometimes sitting in the “dating parlor” and talking. All dates were without physical touching, chaperoned, and casual. We could date a lot of young men—which I did—and there were no strings attached. We were simply having a nice time with a friend. We were getting to know each other. Yes, of course, we were evaluating the other person, but truly, no one was thinking marriage. We dated for fun, not “for the purpose of marriage.” I met my husband at college, and we dated as “steadies” for the last two and a half years.
We also knew each other’s families and took walks together. We didn’t have any “solo dates” until the week before we got married, mostly because we didn’t have money and there was no real need. When we married, we knew each other very well, and there were no surprises.
Fast forward twenty-some years, and our teenage children were in college. Same college, different dating customs. Some of the college kids were courters, and some were not. The young men who were not courters were scared to ask any girls out, since the girl they liked might be from a courting family. It wasn’t that he wanted to do anything wrong; he was just being careful. As a result, no one dated. Girls went to school functions in packs. Guys went in groups, too. The only way for a girl to get to know a guy was if the guy was bold enough to ask her out for a date (we’re talking about chaperoned events), and that was seldom.
At that time, my husband and I felt that something wasn’t exactly right. Why couldn’t Christian young people have fun? What was wrong with sitting beside someone at lunch? Why were guys so scared that they never asked one girl to do anything the whole four years of college? And, why were so very many girls graduating and going to work, never ever to get married?
I think this book hits the nail on the head. The basic problem is that there’s too much commitment too soon. A guy who only thinks the girl seems nice is scared that if he sits next to her at lunch, she’ll take it as a marriage proposal. He’s scared he’ll have to tell her father all about his financial situation, just to get the opportunity to get to know her face-to-face. He’s afraid of making a mistake and getting hurt—and of hurting her, if it doesn’t work out. How’s he supposed to get to know anyone? So, he doesn't even try.
It’s a sad state of affairs, and I believe we need a re-think.
What do you think? Do you think Modern Courtship has worked? Did it work for you?